Interview #141: Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

After public commenters demanded that the Aurora council speak out against an ICE detention center in Aurora, Council Member Nicole Johnston and some of her colleagues attended a nationwide, pro-immigrant protest at the facility. However, a small splinter group caused an uproar with their behavior, and one of her colleagues held her publicly–and unfairly–responsible in a council meeting.

Q: At the June 24 council meeting, there was a long list of public commenters. Many of them were there to speak against the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Aurora. Why was immigration and the ICE facility coming up now?

A: There is a history. We have a center that is overseen by this private GEO Group. But there was an internal investigation that gave a series of infractions. We’ve had outbreaks of measles and chickenpox, which affects our first responders if they have to come in. They can leave being exposed. Nationally and locally, we’ve been looking at this.

Q: You did bring up the federal inspector general’s report at the study session prior to the meeting. In response, Mayor Bob LeGare and Councilwoman Francoise Bergan both said they didn’t think Aurora should get involved in federal affairs. But this came about because you and Council Members Crystal Murillo, Allison Hiltz, and Angela Lawson–or “the Squad”–sent a letter to council expressing concern about conditions at this facility. Did you believe that your other colleagues didn’t know about the ICE facility?

A: We all know about the ICE facility. We were not asking our colleagues to develop policy to step on the feet of our federal government. We were just saying, “hey, this is wrong. We don’t want our community to think that we just stand by this. Please, as a council, let’s sign this unanimously and show strong support that we support our immigrant and refugee communities.” Only four of the ten council members signed that letter.

Q: That brings us to the evening of July 12–a Friday night. Where was Nicole Johnston?

A: I attended, along with many people throughout the country–700 cities–in a Lights for Liberty event. The purpose was to shine light on the atrocities that are happening in detention centers.

Q: The protest was at the detention center.

Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston

A: It was. The protest started with a march. There were speakers speaking to the group. Simultaneously, there’s flagpoles–the American flag was flying. While we were speaking, a group of people had gone past this barrier, took down the American flag, put up a flag of Mexico, attempted to burn the American flag, and put up a pro-police flag–but they had defaced it. I did not know all of those details while I was several hundreds of feet away.

Q: The following Monday, there was a scheduled council meeting and the first public commenter to speak was actually Council Member Dave Gruber, who used his time to hold you and two of your colleagues culpable for the group’s actions. Do you think he planned to whip the audience into a frenzy?

A: I absolutely thought that was intentional. It was a packed house. On the side was a woman who had already been tagging me on Twitter, spreading lies. She was ready to record his speech. She downloaded it on a far-right group, which now has probably almost 30,000 views, saying that we were participants in [desecrating the flag].

Q: After he spoke, you tried to cut in, but Mayor LeGare told you that was not the procedure. Minutes later, Council Member Charlie Richardson moved to overturn his ruling and let you speak. How many times since you’ve been on council have council members attempted to overrule the chair?

A: This was the first. We did not organize that protest. When he [said in his comments to] imagine a loved one of a service member being presented with that desecrated flag, that personally insulted me deeply. I was married to a Marine for over 15 years. Council Member Gruber knew that military connection I had. To give that example was dirty, below the belt. It was something that I don’t know if I can get past.

Q: The editorial board of the Aurora Sentinel called for the council to censure Dave Gruber. How do you feel about that?

A: With our council rules, to censure someone we need six votes. If we don’t get the six votes, those that bring that charge forward of censure are responsible for paying all legal or attorney fees. If Council Member Gruber had an attorney to defend himself and we brought forward censure, if we did not get the six votes, we aren’t on the winning side.

Follow Council Member Nicole Johnston on Twitter: @nicoleforaurora


#24: Newport, TN 6/2/16

If your underbritches feel bunched, y’all are in good company. At the Newport city council meeting, the People’s Business was as sticky as maple syrup on flypaper.

“I wanna bring everybody up to speed on the situation with the animal shelter,” city administrator James Finchum announced from somewhere behind his extensive mustache.  “They promised they would get us our money. As of today, we’ve received $10,000.”

The bad news: “They still owe us about $60,000.” All right, fellers: time to shake down them dogs and cats! Milk bones and kitty litter gotta be worth something!

“Nobody at the city wants to close that animal shelter,” kindly old Vice Mayor Mike Proffitt warbled. “That’s the furthest thing from our mind.”

One councilman murmured, “Don’t they have some $90,000 in repairs?”

“I’ve never heard that figure,” Finchum recoiled, no doubt contemplating all the gold-plated food dishes 90 grand could buy. “The roof definitely needs repairs.”

At this point, a man in a lime-green Polo stood up–apparently Newport’s roof guru. “When the heat rises and it hits the tin [roof], it causes the metal to sweat and it rains in your attic. Then it ends up in the electrical lights.” Some tar paper would fix the problem, he added. (Again, am I the only one who sees the value of super absorbent kitty litter?!)

“The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain-“

Speaking of snafus, the city attorney had some unwelcome news about 318 White Oak Avenue. There were no other bidding parties at the tax sale.” He tossed up his arms. “Consequently, YOU have ended up with the property.”

Vice Mayor Proffitt immediately complained. “Everything I’ve heard from everybody says, ‘get rid of this! If you get anything, beats nothing, ’cause you’re gonna be holding onto it.'”

Taking the advice of the man with “profit” in his name, the council voted to sell.

“Get off my lawn!” -this man, to the taxpayers

During citizen comment, Carla had some things to say for the good of the city: “We are hosting a motorcycle fundraiser that will start at the Tanner Building. We’re calling it ‘Kickstands Up for Preservation’,” she announced.

“Maurice, I’ll borrow your motorcycle!” the mayor ribbed the police chief.

Second: “I had asked the council about supporting my transportation program,” Carla gently backed into her sales pitch. “I am still looking for funds for that program other places…but if you could help in any way, I’d appreciate it.”

“How much are you needing for that?” one alderman inquired.

$2,500, she deadpanned.

There was a pause. Vice Mayor Proffitt let her down gently. “I know it’s frustrating to you, but I appreciate what you’re trying to do.” Oh, well. Maybe once the animal shelter pays them back, Carla.

Carla: “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?”

Speaking of appreciation, the vice mayor had another uniquely Newportian thank-you to dole out. “Lisa, I’d like to thank you for being up there the other night when the folks [were] gettin’ dog-bit,” he drawled. “And the neighbors tell you ‘they won’t bite you’…and blood’s running down both legs. But I appreciate you being up there at the time to defuse that situation.”

Woof! Methinks they need to get that animal shelter squared away, stat!

Final thoughts: If you ever watch a Tennessee city council meeting, be sure you have a translator. Their accent is thicker than gravy on a biscuit. I give this meeting 7 out of 10 vicious dog bites.